García: Spain’s connections to South Texas

Dr. Lino García, Jr., with students from the Universidad de Oviedo in Asurias, Spain.
Dr. Lino García, Jr., with students from the Universidad de Oviedo in Asurias, Spain.

MADRID, Spain – At the invitation of the Universidad de Oviedo in Asurias, Spain, I delivered a presentation last month to students, faculty and community individuals on ‘La Epoca Español en Tejas Desde 1528’ (Colonial Spanish Texas Since 1528).

The welcome environment was definitely extended me, a Tejano, speaking to them about the adventures of Spaniards on Texas soil centuries ago.

After my ten hours plane trip over the Atlantic I landed in Madrid, a city that never sleeps. Everyone I met, including taxi drivers, were amazed to hear and meet someone from the USA that speaks their language, is interested in their culture, who traveled so many miles to make a presentation, and to taste Spanish life.

In Madrid I was escorted by a lovely couple, Manuel Quiroga and his wife Pilar, both retired professors from the Universidad de Madrid, whom I had met some years ago in Guanajuato. These elegant Madrileños kindly took me to old Madrid, visiting the ‘Convento de los Trinitarios’ where Miguel de Cervantes is buried and other historical sites.

Early the next morning I made the trip to Oviedo, and that evening a lovely lady and friend Raquel Fresno Moro whom we had met on our last trip to Asturias, came by and took me to see some historical sites in Oviedo such as the ‘San Miguel de Lillo’ and the ‘Cruz de la Victoria,’ this last one a monument to celebrate the Visigoths’ triumph over the Arab invaders.

That evening we enjoyed a plate of ‘merluza a la plancha’ (bass fish) at a famous restaurant ‘Tierra Astur.’ The next day I took the bus to Grado from where my cousin Luis Argüelles Longoria waited for me to take me to Casa Longoria in Láneo, and there I visited with him and his lovely wife Fernanda, as he informed me more about our Longoria relatives.

Next morning, Monday, I made my presentation to the student body, faculty and community individuals. All listened intensely, learning about the early Spanish explorations, and the colonization of early Spanish Texas. As I evolved my lecture, I made mention of the many early families who settled old Brownsville in late 19th century, many enjoying heritage from the Basque/Asturian/Catalan regions of Spain, and who had found eminent success as early bankers, and as enterprising commercial individuals such as the Fernándezes, the Yturrias, the Celayas, the Ortizes, the Garzas, the Longorias, and other prominent old Brownsville families whose descendants are still part of the cultural and business community.

After my presentation I mingled with the students, and found them very similar to ours in South Texas, many from working parents, all studious, with dreams just like all students have. Their genetic makeup showed in their appearances, some with bright red-hair (las jenas) from the Celtic genes, some with blond and clear green/blue eyes, inherited genes from the early Visigoths who settled in Asturias centuries ago. Needless to say, I found them all interested in knowing more about Tejanos, our likes, and dreams, which compared to theirs, are essentially the same.

After that adventure, a lovely couple and my dear friends, Julio Cuesto, who was my classmate at Tulane, and his lovely wife Carmen arrived for me in Oviedo the next day for the ten hour drive from Northern Spain to Southern Spain, arriving at their home in Sevilla. Julio is now VP for Heineken/CruzCampo in Spain and he and his wife were guests of King Felipe IV and his lovely wife Queen Leticia in San Sebastian at a reception in that city.

We immediately took off from Oviedo heading toward León, a most beautiful city, with the most impressive ‘Catedral de Oviedo,’ which we visited. We spent that night at a ‘Parradero Hotel,’ where all amenities were bestowed on us. Baked fish, pork, and plenty of fruit, with ‘zumo de manzana,’ and the lightest of beers, ‘CruzCampo,’ are preferred by most Spaniards, so I indulged in that local custom also.

The next morning we headed on to Salamanca, the site of the famous ‘Universidad de Salamanca’ where Fray Luis de León enjoyed life as a professor, and where Miguel de Unamuno was once ‘Rector’ and where UTPA presently has a Study Abroad Program. The next day we visited the ‘Monasterio de Yuste’ where Charles IV, king of Spain when the conquest of México occurred, and also emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, lived his final years in meditation. There one can see the bed where he rested, with part of the wall cut open so that he could enjoy Daily Mass each day. The office where he received dignitaries and his special chair to alleviate his illness of gout can be also viewed. A fan of fishing trout, the lake made especially for him to fish is still there for viewing.

We then headed on to Extremadura, a barren part of Spain unlike other regions, where groves of olives are seen everywhere, and on to the town of Trujillo, birthplace of Hernán Cortés, whom destiny appointed as the Conqueror of México in 1519. Heading on to Sevilla and being a student of the literary works of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedras, I stayed at the Best Western Cervantes. The next morning and feeling some nostalgia for South Texas breakfast, I asked the cook for some ‘huevos a la mexicana,’ and getting a strange look from him I informed him of the ingredients of onions, tomatoes mixed with scrambled eggs, so needless to say I left behind in Sevilla some aspect of our South Texas breakfast.

My last stop was Madrid and Alcalá de Henares, this last city the birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes in 1547. So, after presenting, and making some valuable visits to sites, I was ready for my return to Texas having greatly enjoyed my stay at ‘mi querida España.’

Dr. Lino García, Jr., is a Brownsville native and Professor Emeritus of Spanish Literature at UTPA. He can be reached at LGarcia@UTPA.EDU.

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